Interview with Jamaica’s Tech Queen, Ingrid Riley

Ingrid Riley is Jamaica’s Tech Queen. She has written numerous articles for the major new papers and websites (including, published quite a few technology guides and is part owner of the technology company, Lee Quee + Riley. Most recently she is the host of a new technology show on Hot 102 FM on Thursday at 8.30 PM in Jamaica. I recently interviewed her to talk about technology and Jamaica.

Q: Tell us about when, how, who got you into technology?
A: Well first can I sidestep that title of Jamaica’s Tech Queen…(laughing) Wow, Jamaica’s Tech Queen. I don’t know if I can accept that. (Smiling ). I’m simply a lover of technology and what it can do for us. My business partner Susan calls me an evangelist. That one I like because I am very passionate about technology, exploring it, experimenting with it and sharing what I know with anyone who is willing to listen while I run my mouth. I am very happy to be have been born in this time.

Who got me into technology, I think I’d have to first credit my family for that. My sister and my brother-in-law owned one of the fist ISPs here called Jamaica Online and I remember learning about modems and the Internet from them. I mean we were surfing at some slooooww speeds with 28k or less modems, looking at pages and pages of text and first generation web design. But it was also a time of online chat, when they were doing early testing voice over IP in those pre Skype days. It was great and the idea of the Internet had me curious and kept my mind busy with a whirlwind of ideas. One of them was to later in 1998, create a printed Jamaican Internet Guide. Also working at the Jamaica Observer newspaper from 1993 and being online there was very influential too. What really sparked me too was reading the many magazines that were out evangelizing the Internet and the information age and all the technologies -magazines like Fast Company, Business 2.0, Red Herring were like bibles to me from they began. So those were the reasons for me developing this passion for technology.

Q: Recently within hours of the release of the Harry Potter book it was online. I was in Negril last month checking email and the kids behind me were watching the New Herbie movie. How do you feel about piracy and do you believe the Caribbean will be the next China?
A: I am a strong believer that the creator, generator of ideas as words, software, audio, video must be the primary and majority beneficiary of their work-financially and reputationally. I am such a believer in the phrase, whatever I create I must own. I hope we as Caribbean people will realize even more now, the value in their own ideas, and the currency of our cultural content and be moved to protect it, packaging, market and distribute it and become a major player.

There is loads of talk about brand Jamaica and many questions arise from that debate and one of them that heads the list is…who owns brand Jamaica…foreigners…yes they can be partners and consumers of it, but not majority owners and controllers of it. And in some respects we have lost that. Let’s not giveaway everything eh! We have a lot going for us in Jamaica, the Caribbean –our music, film and TV, literature, fashion.
On the other side of things, we Jamaicans, Caribbean nationals and specifically Jamaica do not have the kind of culture that goes out to buy their own copy of a CD, a DVD, a book and I believe that the single most important influence of that is money, economics. And further, we didn’t have a culture, until recently via cable, technology and exposure via migrant relatives and personal travel online and by airline that made us see the value of our own ideas and cultural content. My hope is that we will not be sellouts, passive consumers in the process, but true owners and benefactors of our own work.

Q: What was the last software program you bought? What was the last freeware program you downloaded?
A: Latest software I bought…none…my iBook is fully loaded, so I’m good. In terms of freeware well it’s definitely Skype, have you tried it. It is amazing. I love it! Then there is Google Talk. Don’t you just love the innovation and the competition, who wouldn’t.

Q: Do you own an iPod? What was the last song you downloaded?
A: Nope, I don’t own an iPod. But I’m still vibing by my JBL creature speakers attached to my iBook. I love music to surround me, loud, booming and clear while I work, cook, exercise whatever. But because I am a closet-Gadget freak, I know I’ll get one pretty soon, my birthday is coming and so is Christmas, so I may get it myself or start dropping hints to friends. (laughing)

Q: What do you see as the next emerging technologies?
A: VOIP n WIMAX and I love the direction of Mobile messaging, content and marketing. The Cell phone is still a killer app up there with email, especially for developing countries.

Q: Mobile phones are quite prevalent in Jamaica and the Caribbean because of the low cost ownership and service. This is also true in Europe and Japan. A recent BBC report stated that Mobile media channel should make the industry worth USD$42 billion dollars. However unlike these countries Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean has not taken advantage of providing content through this medium. What do you believe it will take for this to happen and is there even a reason to target this market?
A: (smiling) Now that’s weird, because my company Lee Quee + Riley, are about to become players in that space within the next three months. It’s something we began exploring 3 years ago but the market was not ready for it. Mobile Content and Mobile Marketing is on its way to becoming huge in Jamaica and the Caribbean. There is a market for it…there is a market for unique, relevant and sexy mobile content outside of the usual news, stock quotes and traffic alerts. And there are very innovative ways companies can use the mobile medium for branding and marketing purposes as a channel on its own or in conjunction with other communications channels.

Q: Do you think the Cable and Wireless partnership with AMD to provide new Max Personal Internet Communicator (PIC) in Jamaica will help to further this technology?
A: Well I hope so and I see that they have created a monthly payment plan, in a bid to increase the uptake from a wider base of customers, because let’s be frank, internet access and especially high speed internet access is being used primarily by companies and the well heeled. This device Max helps to address what was one of the major barriers to entry for the uptake and eventual spread of the Internet culture – the access device. So I do hope it is successful, but we need other options.

Q: Recently a new company called Caribbean Net Talk started to over Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone service to consumers throughout Jamaica as alternative for their personal and business communications needs. Do you think it will be a success in Jamaica and will it erode the mobile phones growth?
A: VOIP is a service that works only with broadband. I love the technology and in entering the market CNT started out by giving the equipment for free. Then there is also Netstream Global who resells the American Net2Phone here and I’m sure Cable & Wireless will come soon with their offering. The price of broadband has come down significantly from US$45 to 29.99 for 128k, so we’ll see what happens over time, if it morphs from being a high end niche service to a more broadly used service.

Q: Are you an x-boxer? How do you feel about the game developers putting hidden
explicit scenes in these games?
A: Ohh my…ahh no… I am so not the gamer right now. But I recently saw the Def Jam fighter thingy at a friend’s gaming club and I could get into whooopping some ass in the games. The Gaming business is clearly big business globally and with that, like everything else, you will have the seedy element creeping in. I don’t subscribe to the ‘too much blood and gore and explicit scenes’ …for under aged gamers. Just like for movies, there ought to be some rating system and monitoring as such.

Q: What is the silliest computer question you have ever gotten?
A: I haven’t gotten it as yet.

Q: As the largest English speaking Caribbean country do you think we have
emerged as the most technologically advanced? What will it take for Jamaica to be
the India of the Caribbean?
A: The most technologically advanced…I don’t know on what basis I can judge that. Technology companies tend to come here first because we are just that, the largest English speaking Caribbean country and they use here as a jump off base for the Caribbean. So because of that we get a lot of things happening here and first in our market. As for Jamaica to become the India of the Caribbean….for the government to have a true vision of what technology can do for the country and how it can benefit the many and not just the few, and have the balls to roll out the supporting legislation that creates a level playing field for diverse investments, and a readiness to make doing business here pain free.

Q: Okay I have a question…I know you are a busy lady but when are going to start writing again for
A: I will start again soon, but I am focused right now on making TechWatch Caribbean’s blog the site to get news, views and product reviews on how we’re using technology in business and our daily lives. We go from beta to live on September 5, 2005

About the author

Xavier Murphy